Chapter Three Commentary


Chapter two described how making distinguishing between this and that is not in accord with nature and thus not in accord with the Tao. Chapter three takes this same idea and applies it to a social context. It is interesting to look at some of the words of Tao Te Ching in its historical context to get an understanding of its intention.

It has been a while since my last post. I have been very busy with helping establish mindfulness in certain key areas in Delaware. I have not forgotten my commitment to completing my work on the Tao Te Ching and the Tao Te Blog. 

What follows is my translation of Chapter 3. I will be returning shortly with commentary. 



Commentary of Chapter Two:

Chapter two of the Tao Te Ching further points out what is stated in the first chapter which is to say that what appears as opposites in our everyday experiences, are actually a unified whole. Lao Tzu is warning of the danger in separating things as if they existed this way concretely. Rather, what is being pointed out here is that the unity of these so-called opposites is what makes up our world. Ultimately, things do not exist in and of themselves. Everything is interdependent on everything else. Of course, conventional thought has its place. You better have knowledge of the boundaries of your body and an oncoming car that is speeding toward you as you cross the street. However, what this chapter is highlighting is that when we begin to set these momentary occurrences against each other we lose their complementarity. 




What follows is my translation of Chapter 2:


When all beings come to know beauty as something beautiful

Then the distinction of ugliness comes in to being

When all beings come to know good as something good

Then the distinction of evil comes in to being


So it is that being and non-being mutually generate each other

Difficult and easy equally complete each other

Long and short equally form each other

High and low equally determine each other

Sound and melody equally unify each other

Before and after equally succeed each other


Therefore those of wisdom embrace doing without doing

Teach the doctrine without words

Embrace the ten thousand things without interrupting them

Act without attachment

Succeed without desire for results

It is because of no desire for results

Accomplishments last forever

Chapter One of the Tao Te Ching describes the whole project of all 81 chapters. To explain the entire first chapter would be to explain the entire text. Therefore, it is best to focus on the establishment of the core direction of the text stemming from this chapter. This chapter describes the nature of the Tao and how Tao moves and evolves in the world and in our lives. The idea is that the Tao can be found in all outward manifestations, but these manifestations are not the Tao in and of themselves. Also, on the other hand, what is most important in this chapter is that it makes clear that if you begin to think of the Tao as something outside of these things that too is not the Tao. Tao is seen as the order of things or the way that things are. It is not a thing in and of itself. It is the same way that Buddhism uses the word Dharma and dharma. Dharma is very close to this idea of Tao or the way of the universe and dharmas are the “ten thousand things.”

What follows is my rendering of Verse One. Commentary to follow.


The Tao that can be spoken of is not the ceaseless Tao

The name that befalls a name is not the ceaseless name

Not-named is the origin of heaven and earth

Named is the beginning of the Ten Thousand Things

Empty of longing, observe the essence

Full of longing, observe the manifestations

Both emerge together, but fluctuate in name

One in the same, a unified mystery

Profound Mystery, the gateway to all that is hidden

As we embark on looking in to the Tao Te Ching, I want to take this opportunity to let the readers know that I cannot offer a unique translation of the text. I do not speak Chinese nor do I know how to write it and I know how to read very little of it. The only contextual analysis that may happen is based on my own study of the text from multiple English translations. However, that being said, the beauty in studying Tao is that it is beyond words and language and everyone's experience of the Tao is in fact a unique manifestation of the Tao. In the first chapter (from most arrangements of the text) Lao Tzu, its author, clearly states that the Tao is beyond words and ideas and that naming things has its place but if it is named, it is not the eternal Tao. My own interpretation of the Tao Te Ching comes from years of studying the text and later popular Taoist writers that followed in the tradition of Lao Tzu. My interpretation also comes from years of mindfulness practice primarily in the tradition of Zen Buddhism, which is in fact a marriage of Indian Buddhism and Chinese Taoism. The intention of this blog is to provide a translation that informs the practice of mindfulness which can be applied to the many forms of mindfulness practice. In true Taoist fashion, my own mindfulness practice has revolved around sitting meditation as well as liturgy, diet and equally important physical activity such as Tai Chi and Qigong. When a passage is offered from the Tao Te Ching, I will provide my own interpretation of the chapter from multiple sources and my own feel of the chapter informed from my own practice, so that each chapter presented will sometimes be uniquely worded as I understand each chapter. In this way, there is a new "translation" offered, but not from the original Chinese texts.

However, since words and language itself are limited in its ability to point directly to the Tao, this blog, at best,  will only be the finger pointing at the moon. Never can it be the moon itself. I will be back here shortly to offer the first chapter of the Tao Te Ching, a chapter that if fully understood and engaged, can fully highlight the entire meaning of the complete 81 chapters of the text.

To briefly summarize the meaning of the text's title: Tao simply means the way, or way of the universe and Te simply means virtue or power of virtue and Jing means book or text, so the title can simply be read as a book about the way and its virtuous power. In China, often times the text is simply referred to as the Lao Tzu after its supposed author which could mean Master Lao or sometimes referred to as the old boy or old child.

I hope to see you back here for the next installment of the Tao Te Blog.


The Tao Te Blog is coming soon. This blog will take a look at all 81 chapters of the Tao Te Ching using a number of English Translations with my own commentary of each chapter within the context of mindfulness practice, Zen and Tai Chi. We will also explore the influence of later Taoist writings from the Chuang Tzu, Wen Tzu and Lieh Tzu.

Stay Tuned.

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